MARIETTA — Cobb County has been “infected by the SPLOST virus,” using resident-approved penny sales taxes to pay for upkeep rather than big-ticket projects, county Chairman Mike Boyce said while reviewing the list of projects that might be funded should voters approve another tax in 2020.
Nevertheless, Boyce urged his colleagues on the Board of Commissioners to commit to putting a six-year penny sales tax before voters in November 2020, citing the list of projects presented by county staff at a meeting Wednesday — most of them related to maintaining what Boyce called the county’s “five-star services.”
The alternative, a five-year tax, could collect $140 million less, leaving many projects on the cutting-room floor, he said.
“Who here among us is willing to take their projects off the table doing a five-year SPLOST?” Boyce asked.
Commissioner Bob Ott was.
“Maybe some of the stuff that’s on this list shouldn’t be on any list,” the commissioner representing east Cobb said. “There are some things that can go on the general fund, there are somethings that, maybe, shouldn’t be there at all. ... It’s not SPLOST or millage (increases).”
“I deal with the budget every single day, for all of the county, not just the districts,” Boyce replied. “I get the part about the fact that people think there are savings and efficiencies in this budget, that we can do things cheaper … I’m on the record saying I just don’t agree with that.”
Ultimately, Boyce told the mayors of Cobb, whose cities get a cut of SPLOST money, that the board will have decided the joint city-county projects it will fund and the length of the 2020 SPLOST by Dec. 31. Although commissioners will begin soliciting community input this fall on which projects deserve priority — something that will help them determine the duration of the tax — the projects list does not have to be finalized until next spring.
Whatever their choice, they will have to whittle down the list presented by county staff at Wednesday’s meeting.
The projects deemed “critical” by county staff totaled $667 million. Although a six-year SPLOST would collect roughly $840 million — $140 million per year — about a quarter of that would go to the county’s cities, leaving about $630 million for the countywide projects discussed Wednesday.
Transportation projects were almost exclusively related to upkeep and among the costliest that came before the commissioners.
Repaving county roads could cost $40 million per year — and that estimate is a compromise figure, Erica Parish, the county’s director of transportation, told commissioners. It would bring the Overall Condition Index, or OCI, of the county’s roads to 59 out of 100 by the year 2029. (A condition that is considered “fair.”)
But there were scores of other projects for commissioners to choose from.
Interim Public Safety Director Randy Crider said his priority was upgrading the training facilities needed for new recruits to the fire and police departments.
The previous SPLOST, which passed in 2016, included funding to renovate the existing training facility, which opened in 1994 and was meant to serve 700 new recruits, Crider said.
There are now a combined 1,700 that have to be trained, and a majority of the 2016 SPLOST money was used to purchase a separate training facility for police. The police and fire departments would like to use future sales tax revenues to pay for an indoor shooting range and overdue facility upgrades, respectively.
Jimmy Gisi, director of the parks department, said his department needs money to bring its facilities “to today’s standards.” And Sharon Stanley, director of information services, made a case for upgrading much of the software on which county services rely.
“Quality’s not cheap,” Boyce said. “The list this time reflects what we need to do to just keep the current structure that we have in order to meet the growing population. We know that in 2050, 2040 we’re going to be somewhere north of 800,000 people and we need to be thinking ahead here, and that’s what this SPLOST does.”